ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland State Department of Education passed a recommendation Wednesday that would restructure high school graduation requirements and create a two-tier diploma system.
Currently secondary students must take tests in English, government, algebra and biology, but need not pass them to graduate.
The proposal that won board approval would allow students to receive a “local diploma,” which would be based on passing three of four high school assessment tests, and then mandate students pass all four tests to receive a “state diploma.”
The 2009 graduating class could be the earliest group of students affected by the proposal.
MSDE State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said the regulatory change would help make the diploma become more than “a meaningless piece of paper.”
“This will add greater value to the high school diploma and make our students competitive,” Grasmick said.
The next step will be to hear from the public, she said, and a final vote could be made before May 2004.
Under the proposal, the local diploma could come in two versions – a general one and another for individualized education program students, who would have to take, but not necessarily pass, the assessments. Students in individualized education programs also could receive a “certificate of program completion” by taking some alternative tests and completing other graduation requirements.
Board Vice President JoAnn Bell approved the recommendation, but said she did so with some hesitation and much thought. She worried Maryland’s drop-out rate would increase, so it’s imperative to “help people understand how important education is.”
“What does a local high school diploma mean?” Bell said. “What’s the reception going to be? What will it mean to colleges, scholarships and the job force? Maybe we do need to lose about 1,000 students for people to stand up and understand what’s happening.”
The board’s vote was 9-2, with member Dunbar Brooks on the losing end.
Brooks said he hoped students wouldn’t view the additional diplomas as a “fall-back safety diploma.”
“If you’re going to raise the expectations, then there should be one diploma,” Brooks said.
Brooks said later he wished public hearings were held before the proposal was brought to the board, in order to have a more “moving forum.” “This doesn’t encourage (students) to strive for excellence,” he said.
Naznin Adams, Parent Advocacy Network for the Differently-Abled executive director, opposed the recommendation.
Adams, who has a 13-year-old autistic son, said it will leave a lot of children behind. “We don’t know what it means,” Adams said. “But if it’s bumped down, will businesses accept that as a credential, and will they be eligible for Pell grants and scholarships? If they don’t make it, what are the alternatives?”